I was born in Plymouth, into a family with a strong naval tradition: my father, grandfather and great grandfather were all Royal Marines. So in becoming a teacher I broke with the seafaring habit, though not in a very decisive way since as a child I had no idea what I wanted to be. Yet I love the sea; it’s in my blood. I remember the Dockyard, the fish-stalls at the Barbican, the yachts in the Sound, the long stretches of golden sand in Cornwall just across the Tamar.
Later I moved to Cambridge, where I worked not only as a teacher, but as a taxi-driver, waiter, civil servant and member of a workers’ co-operative. Then, midway in this chequered career, I studied for a doctorate at Anglia Ruskin University, while teaching part-time in the English Department. Subsequently I became an Associate Lecturer at the Open University, tutoring in twentieth-century literature.
Writing has always been my passion, however, so these days I just write, though novels, short stories and poems have mostly replaced academic writing. I still live in Cambridge with my partner, and for recreation sometimes play the piano or lend a hand with the cooking.
In addition to books, I’ve written articles for academic journals and for The Literary Encyclopedia, an online reference work. I’ve also given papers at Warwick University and The Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies. For more information about the books click on the links.
The writers I love and admire are too numerous to list, but three to whom I always return are Chekhov, Mansfield and Isherwood. Perhaps I should also mention Denton Welch, whom I recently rediscovered and whose short story ‘When I was Thirteen’ twinkles with sly humour, even as it rumbles with menace. Among contemporary fiction writers, Colm Toíbín and Julian Barnes are favourites; and among contemporary poets, Carol Ann Duffy and Mark Doty.
A few choice snippets.
From Katherine Mansfield:
‘I don’t want to tell you, but I think I ought to, mother,’ said Isabel. ‘Kezia is drinking tea out of Aunt Beryl’s cup.’ (‘Prelude’)
There had been this other life, running out, bringing things home in bags, getting things on approval, discussing them with Jug, and taking them back to get more things on approval, and arranging father’s trays and trying not to annoy father. But it all seemed to have happened in a kind of tunnel. It wasn’t real. It was only when she came out of the tunnel into moonlight or by the sea or into a thunderstorm that she really felt herself. What did it all mean? What was it she was always wanting? Where did it all lead? Now? Now? (‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’)
From Denton Welch:
The orchestra was playing ‘The Birth of the Blues’ in a rather remarkable Swiss arrangement . . . (‘When I was Thirteen’)
I subsided next to him with ‘Tolstoy’ on my knee. I waited for a moment and then plunged.
‘What exactly does “illegitimate child” mean?’ I asked rather breathlessly.
‘Outside the law – when two people have a child although they’re not married.’
‘Oh.’ I went bright pink. I thought Archer must be wrong. I still believed it was quite impossible to have a child unless one was married. The very fact of being married produced the child. I had a vague idea that some particularly reckless people attempted, without being married, to have children in places called ‘night-clubs’, but they were always unsuccessful, and this made them drink, and plunge into the most hectic gaiety. (‘When I was Thirteen’)
From Christopher Isherwood:
‘Frau Karpf, Liebling, willst Du sein ein Engel und bring zwei Tassen von Kaffee?’ Sally’s German was not merely incorrect; it was all her own. (Goodbye to Berlin)
Sometimes, when George makes a joke and Kenny laughs his deep rather wild laugh, George feels he is being laughed with. At other times, when the laugh comes a fraction of a moment late, George gets a spooky impression that Kenny is laughing not at the joke but at the whole situation; the educational system of this country, and all the economic and political and psychological forces which have brought them into this classroom together. At such times, George suspects Kenny of understanding the innermost meaning of life; of being, in fact, some sort of genius. (Though you would certainly never guess this from his term papers.) And then again, maybe Kenny is just very young for his age, and misleadingly charming, and silly. (A Single Man)